Risk to Teen Sexual Health Could Be Reduced with Parent Information Campaign

Article Reveals Significant Gap in Communicating Sexual Health Issues to Young Americans

 With the notable rise in sexually transmitted infections and the Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe vs. Wade, there’s an increasing concern among many parents about how to discuss sexual health and behaviour with their children. Regardless of one’s opinion on reproductive rights, the Supreme Court decision has raised the need and opportunity to discuss such topics with teens and young adults. Be it abstinence or safe sex, research from across the field of adolescent health shows that parents are one of the greatest factors in forming teen and young adult views on sexual practices. Unfortunately, young people often lack information and advice and would benefit from communication with parents and other caregivers about sexual health.  

A recent paper published in the Journal of Adolescent Health by Dr. Jessica Fitts Willoughby of the Murrow College of Communication at WSU, and Dr. Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, Dean at the Duke School of Nursing, highlights this problem and outlines how to combat it. The paper puts forth a call-to-arms for a coordinated media campaign targeting parents and providers and aimed at encouraging informed communication with young people about sexual health.  

“It is not only teen pregnancy,” Willoughby notes, “One in five Americans have a sexually transmitted infection and half-of those are teens and young adults.  They represent the single largest group of people in the U.S. with STIs.”

According to “Designing a Parent-based National Health Communication Campaign to Support Adolescent Sexual Health” by Willoughby and Guilamo-Ramos, there is a large and growing amount of empirical data demonstrating that parents and care providers are critical influences in shaping adolescent sexual decision-making and behavior. This is particularly true regarding unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and HIV prevention efforts.  Unfortunately, access to reliable and useful information about teen sexual health, and how to best communicate it, is not readily available for most parents.

This is essential since research clearly shows that while parents primarily focus on the negative and economic consequences of adolescent sex, teens tend to base their decisions on the positive outcomes and social benefits associated with it. There are few strategies available to parents to help them bridge their fears and the perceived benefits their children see. With the growing issues around teen sexual activity and its consequences, the authors suggest that it is imperative to start a national, coordinated media campaign focussed on providing parents and providers with reliable information and advice.

“Individual behavior change cannot make up for a lack of access to health care or systemic issues,” Willoughby says, “but conversations between parents and youth about sexual health can have a positive impact on youth’s sexual practices and help them make good decisions about their own wellbeing. Considering the increase in STIs and the recent Supreme Court decision, the need to help young people make informed decisions about sexual health and practices has never been greater.”

About The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University

The Murrow College of Communication works tirelessly to build upon the pioneering work of its namesake.  Ranked as a top ten research program by the Communication Institute for Online Scholarship (CIOS), the College strives to provide the best education to communication specialists and so continue Mr. Murrow’s legacy. Since its inception, the Edward R. Murrow College has developed into one of the top 10 research units in a variety of areas including, but not limited to, media and children, broadcasting, political elections, politics and government and global regions.

Media Contact:

Dr. Jessica Willoughby

Associate Professor, Strategic Communication





Dr. Thomas Evans

Public Communications Writer/Editor